Improved reliability attracted Westjet Encore, which introduced daily flights from Nanaimo to Calgary in June 2013. Three years later, the Nanaimo Airport welcomed the two millionth passenger.
With the new Port of Nanaimo Centre, the cruise ship terminal and the establishment of Vancouver Island University, Nanaimo is becoming a major hub for trade, tourism and education on the Island. The airport could no longer accommodate the demand for flights and increased traffic and needed equipment upgrades to improve flight reliability in inclement weather. The result was a limiting of economic growth in the region. Nanaimo’s airport expansion was part of the region’s strategy to seize new opportunities to diversify and to grow.
The Nanaimo Airport Expansion Project extended the runway by 480 metres to allow larger planes to land, provided for new high-intensity runway lighting and improved navigational instruments to allow planes to land in difficult weather. Upgrades to landing systems improved safety by allowing approaching planes to take a more direct route into the airport. The project also included significant terminal upgrades.
The runway expansion enabled the airport to meet the growing demands of mid-Island travellers by hosting direct flights, which eliminate the need for passengers to take short haul connections to Vancouver or travel longer distances to other major airports. This has had significant positive impacts on local businesses and institutions, such as Vancouver Island University, by improving direct air access to their products and services.
The improved service is also having a positive impact on new business investment in the region. Since the expansion, completed in 2010, new services at the airport include the addition of WestJet Encore flights to Calgary, Kenmore Air service to Seattle, FedEx Express daily courier flights, as well as a new aviation service business, Enex Fuels. In 2013, the Airport saw its highest passenger numbers ever, with a 21% increase in passenger numbers over the previous year. Further increases in passenger numbers are expected with the expansion of carrier routes and increased numbers of charter flights to northern work sites.